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Japan Life!
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Chapter: 10 Lesson: 0 - Are Japanese Video-Games Superior?
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Lesson added on: January 1, 1970 12:00am
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Opinion Piece: Are Japanese Video-Games Superior?

The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence (隣の芝生は青く見える). This can be said about almost anything. People these days are never happy with what they have, and another country always seems to have the better deal. This can also be said about video games of any sort. Kindly note that this article was originally written around 2010 but has been revised in 2018.

From an American point of view, we see Japanese games as the pinnacle of games. We see their technology as superior and dedication to their craft as legendary. The same is true to Japan and its gamers. So today we will cover a few areas where we can see how the grass may not be any greener, but in fact just the same.To start I would like to show you a quote, straight from the legendary man of video games himself, Hideo Kojima (小島 秀夫), the creator of the Metal Gear Solid(メタルギアソリッド) franchise.

In an October 2008 issue of EGM (Electronic Gaming Monthly), Mr. Kojima had said,
“If you honestly compare Japanese games with Western ones, Japan has lost.”

And while most of the American readers who see this will scoff, the general public of Japan may not disagree.

To quote another legend from video game history, Shinji Mikami (三上 真司), the creator of the Resident Evil (バイオハザード) franchise, is quoted during E3 of 2010 saying,
“Right now the Japanese market and the Western market in terms of games are very different. And on a personal level I enjoy Western games a lot more.”
To make it more clear on what I say when I speak of “Western Games”, I don’t necessarily mean cowboys and Indians here. Some of the games to reach top 100, or even top 10 in Japan are Uncharted 2: Among Thieves (アンチャーテッド 黄金刀と消えた船団), which hit number seven while Gears of War 2 (ギアーズオブウォー) was at the top of the list in 2009.

The year before that in 2008, Grand Theft Auto IV (グランド・セフト・オートIV) broke the top ten and Fallout 3 (フォールアウト3) was on the top five. Even further back in 2007, we have God of War 2 (ゴッド・オブ・ウォーII) hitting the top five while Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas (グランド・セフト・オート・サンアンドレアス) and Gears of War 1 (ゴッド・オブ・ウォー) both hit top ten.

While this doesn’t necessarily prove that Japanese gamers prefer Western games to Eastern ones it shows, if nothing else, they are on the rise. Meanwhile, franchises like Ninja Gaiden (ニンジャガイデン) and Tenchu (天誅) do particularly well in America.

In 1985, America was introduced to the revitalization of videogames. The hope of all future games relied on just one, Super Mario Bros. It was simple to play and just about anyone could pick it up. When its sequel, Super Mario Bros. 2 was released, it was similar to the first Mario Bros. game but with an added level of difficulty. This game was not released outside of Japan until it was included in Super Mario All Stars as ‘Lost Worlds’.

The reason why it was not released for the Western audience is because they feared that it was too difficult and instead modified a Japanese game, Yume Koujou: Doki Doki Panikku (夢工場 ドキドキパニック), added in Mario Characters, and called it Super Mario Bros 2.

Click to expand

Comparing koujou: doki doki panikku with mario bros 2 (US edition)
This trend is seen even today, where some of the more difficult and exotic Japanese games don’t make their way either because it has a tremendous amount of culture difference, or it is incredibly difficult. Added difficulty does not always guarantee unreleased games for their Western counterpart. A Japanese RPG (jRPG) is often seen as more difficult than Western RPG’s, however, it almost always finds a western publisher to translate and release the game overseas.

Western games have become more challenging and today, both East and West seem to be almost parallel with their difficulty levels.Some of the more exotic games in Japan are similar to Japanese variety shows where competitors wear the most ridiculous attires, from cross-dressing to a full-body leather suit called a zentai (ゼンタイ).

Some games are inappropriate for children in Western standards even though they are meant for children in Japan, and some games contain objectionable and even illegal content (in some countries) such as animated pornography. We have seen games like Cooking Mama (クッキング ママ) recently-ish, in the West, however these kind of games weren’t always available there. Cooking games are fairly popular in Japan, and have been since the original Nintendo Entertainment System.

Perhaps one of the strangest Japanese games of them all is Muscle March (マッスル行進曲). It’s a variety game for the Wii where you take the role of a hyper-muscular man and compete against other hyper-muscular men in speedos. However you want to take it, that’s the sanest part about the game, everything else is pure insanity. Incidentally, this game was ported to North America and Europe in 2010.

Unfortunately, most of these strange Japanese games won’t sell in Western culture, but that is not to say that all is lost. Games and their respective consoles can be imported and the quality of games seems to be improving by creating innovative hybrids of both game types with selectable game level difficulties. It doesn’t always work but when it does, gamers hear about them and often become hooked.

Square Enix's Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest franchises have been overwhelmingly popular in the west despite its creators thinking it would not sell especially the ever popular MMORPG Final Fantasy XIV which as of September 2018 is continuing to grow in popularity.

In conclusion, I don’t mean to say that Western games are dominating the market, plenty of gamers have their own opinion on what they prefer and even some sources say that Western games are on a downfall.

Though, from the majority of information I’ve received--as well as people I’ve spoken to, it seems we all face the same dilemma. We all want what the other has because it just seems so much different, but what we don’t usually realize is that different doesn’t really mean better, just a different taste of the same pie. My aim isn’t to separate Western and Eastern games, simply to show you that while it seems more luxurious in Japan when it comes to video games, many of them think the same about us.

My point is simply that while games come from different places, you don’t have to limit yourself to one region of games. The grass is just as green over here in the west as it is in Japan.
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